Some people called it "avant-garde", "underground", or "alternative". The term that stuck in my head was "High Weirdness". It was Einstürzende Neubauten, William S. Burroughs, Bob Cobbing, Peter Brötzmann, John Cage, the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians, Kurt Schwitters (and Merzbow), the Gerogerigegege, and on and on.
When I grew up, I told myself, I was going to be all of those things and more. Or at least one of them. Or some random gene-splice of them. Ha, ha, ha.
It took a while for that dumb kid I was to figure out what I was really aiming for. My love of those things didn't really mean I wanted to become any of those things, or even follow them. Only that I wanted to learn what lessons they had to provide, and apply them to whatever was within the scope of my talent.
What knocked sense into me was realizing how any personal pretensions I had towards bohemia or "alt-" anything were a dead end. I lived near enough to NYC that I could have tried to insinuate myself into whatever environment existed there for such things, but I never made the effort — and deep down, I knew the reason I never bothered was because I liked the idea of it all better than the actual doing of it. Really doing it required a degree of commitment that wasn't possible for me then. I had to settle for whatever I could do on my own desktop, and not worry too much about what label it took on or which circles it ran in.
The other big reason was that I'd developed a sense for what makes something genuinely "outsider" or "alternative" and what just makes it mannered or eccentric. The true weirdos, god love them, can't help themselves. I wasn't one of those folks, and I knew it. All the things I was driven to do were relatively mundane, and I needed to honor that.
None of this meant I couldn't continue to seek out and appreciate the work of those out on the fringe, just that I couldn't kid myself about my motives. I didn't want to be part of any such Scene for the sake of being a boundary-pusher and risk-taker; I wanted to be in there so I could take credit for being in there.
I'm still amazed at how this one realization became a broom that helped me sweep so much out of the way. After I got this part figured out, I started writing a lot more industriously than before, and that more or less led into the projects that kicked off Genji Press. Not fighting with yourself about your motives every step of the way is a big boon.
The problem with being weird is that it's not something you can lay claim to. It's something you find yourself in, something you have going on whether you would want the label or not. Burroughs was truly weird because he wasn't trying. The Nihilist Spasm Band were just a bunch of guys who got together every Monday night to make a spontaneous racket, and enjoyed it for nothing more than what it was. What little fame they had was a gift.
That awful word poser comes to mind, and I think this is what, if anything, it's meant to skewer: the need for people to be regarded as "special", when specialness is for others to decide. I'm not that weird and I know it. I have tastes that are out of the mainstream, but that's not the same as being a maverick-who-can't-help-it. Wisdom at last.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind